Opening remarks, as prepared, of Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Ranking Member Sam Graves (R-MO) from today’s markup of the Committee majority’s budget reconciliation measure:
Last year, Congress worked together to pass multiple COVID relief packages and provide trillions of dollars to help Americans during this pandemic – including critical assistance for the transportation sector and its workers.
For the transportation sector, Congress has authorized more than $113 billion to ensure that workers stay employed and that businesses survive and recover. For example, we provided $48 billion in Payroll Support Program (PSP) funds for passenger air carriers, cargo carriers, and contractors; $12 billion in grants to airports; $39 billion in transit infrastructure grants; $10 billion for state departments of transportation; $2 billion in grants to Amtrak; and $2 billion for motorcoach operators, school bus companies, and passenger ferries.
On top of that, we’ve also provided more than $45 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA’s) Disaster Relief Fund (DRF), which has been utilized to provide vital PPEs, support vaccine distribution, and supplement state unemployment insurance.
I stand ready to work with the Chair and any of my colleagues across the aisle to continue supporting the transportation sector, its workers, and our communities to ensure that our economy can fully recover.
We have started to see promising economic signs showing our previous efforts were not in vain, including a drop in new unemployment claims and strengthening consumer confidence, as well as indications from CBO and other experts that, even if we do nothing more, the long-term picture is improving. Of course, we still have a long way to go.
But we also haven’t seen the full effect of the trillions of dollars that Congress has approved. One reason is simply that not all of that money has gotten to the intended recipients yet. For example, Amtrak still hasn’t spent the $1 billion dollars they received in the last package; of the $39 billion provided for transit, 60% hasn’t been spent; the $2 billion for the motorcoach industry hasn’t made its way to those struggling businesses yet; and as of this month, the $2 billion dollars for airports hasn’t yet been disbursed. That’s not surprising, as it’s been barely a month since Congress provided the last wave of assistance.
To me, the most appropriate course of action would be to ensure that the money we’ve already approved actually gets into the hands of its intended recipients before we approve trillions more in new spending. Then we can see if it is having the intended effect, make certain that we understand where there is still need, and provide resources to those areas instead of just plunging ahead.
We should not be involved in a partisan rush, three weeks into a new Administration that has publicly pledged itself to bipartisanship. The Majority’s first resort should not be to use a special budget reconciliation process instead of developing legislation with thoughtful, bipartisan solutions.
I want to be clear that if more assistance is needed, then I remain committed to working with my colleagues to provide it. However, this should be done in a bipartisan fashion, to ensure we’re being good stewards of taxpayer dollars.
If Larry Summers, who served as Obama’s Director of the National Economic Council during that stimulus debate, is cautioning that the Majority’s approach may be going too far, then maybe we should slow down.
But the Majority is again choosing politics over prudence, with the Speaker directing committees to pursue a closed process without even a chance for bipartisanship. It’s the same “my way or the highway” approach that we saw last year, and I’m concerned about what it means for the important work before this Committee, including a critical surface transportation reauthorization.
Today, I want to remind my colleagues on both sides that this Committee’s past accomplishments for the American people have come directly as the result of bipartisanship. Last Congress, we failed to pass a long-term surface bill because it was partisan; but we passed a WRDA bill and an aviation certification bill because we worked together.
But I strongly disagree with the one-sided approach represented by this budget reconciliation process. The Members of this Committee deserved a chance to craft transportation policy.
Click here for more information on today’s markup, including video.
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